Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

📅 March 14, 2020

We live in a frenzied generation. Every day there is some new plan for being better, looking better, doing more, doing better, adding something else to your life, your routine. We are surrounded by people who are frustrated, unfulfilled, panicked and hopeless. Why? Because of a lack of meaningful activity? No. Our lives are saturated and spilling over with “good things” and “good deeds” and most of us, it is safe to say, still feel we never do enough.

Our subject today is Boundaries: yours and everyone else’s. I was 40 years old (almost too late) before I learned this principle, and summoned the nerve to say, “No. I won’t be able to do that.”

I had known the proverb: He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls [Proverbs 25:28] a long time. I had always thought this meant to keep control of my emotions, to keep words and feelings “in,” buck up, keep quiet, and above all, keep “going.” But this is not what the verse means. A wall (boundary) is all about what you keep “out.” That’s why those famous walls—Hadrian’s, Great Wall of China, among others—were built… to keep danger out.   

A boundary is “a limiting line.”  The boundary of your property or home, for instance, marks the place where you have control. You can, for instance, decide to put purple flowers on your kitchen table, but you cannot go over to your neighbor’s house, take the yellow roses off her table and replace them with purple flowers. You would be violating her boundaries. In the same manner, your neighbor cannot put purple flowers on your table.

Ridiculous? Certainly. But do you, for example, change your plans or feel guilty about plans you cannot or do not want to change when someone tries to tell you what function to attend or how to observe a certain holiday? Add to the list as you will.

In the same way your physical self has boundaries, so does your emotional self.  You have a right and responsibility to protect who you are.

Here are some suggestions. Bear in mind the principle of balance. Quite simply: your answer should not always be “yes,” or always be “no,” even to yourself.

Realize that you have a right to boundaries.  Do you not teach your children to respect other people’s property and feelings? You have the right to expect people to respect yours. No matter what group you find yourself in, you are still an individual with feelings and desires and needs which are yours and are valid.

Recognize your worth. You fulfill a role no one else can fill.  You are worth “taking care of.” If you do not treat yourself as valuable, you will burn out far too soon. And please: the old mantra, “It’s better to burn out than to rust out” is categorically untrue. Burn or rust, the result is still the same—you cannot do what you once did.

Resist [gently] manipulation from people who drain you. You do not have to justify yourself to anyone. You do not have to be held captive to criticism or unwanted advice.

Need help with boundaries? Read:


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Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.


Semi-Finalist - 2021 Royal Palm Literary Award Competition - Florida Writer's Association